More than 1,000 people, most of them in wheelchairs, yesterday took to the streets of Taipei, accusing the government of failing to defend the rights of physically and mentally challenged students.
“We are not asking for special privileges. We’re asking to be treated equally. It’s written in the Constitution that all Taiwanese should enjoy equal rights in education,” Liu Chun-lin (劉俊麟), a father of a handicapped child who co-organized yesterday’s march, said as the crowd made a brief stop in front of the Ministry of Education.
The parade started at MRT Ximending Station and stopped briefly in front of the ministry’s building, where participants delivered a petition to the ministry, before moving on to Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office.
Liu’s remarks drew cheers from the crowd, who chanted: “Equal rights in education, it’s our fundamental right.”
According to Liu, most schools do not provide assistance to students with special needs, such as sign language interpretation for the hearing and orally impaired, as well as assistance to visually impaired or physically challenged students.
“In fact, many schools do not even have toilets accessible to students with disabilities,” he said.
Lai Tsung-yu (賴宗育), 35, a man with an oral communicative disorder, spoke about how difficult it was for him to go to college.
He said he was first admitted to the National Taiwan Normal University’s (NTNU) English department, but he soon realized it was not possible for him to pass the oral communication class because of his disability and because the professor would not compromise on the requirements to pass the course.
“I had to take the class because it’s a required class, but I wouldn’t have been able to speak as fluently as my classmates because of the disorder,” a friend who was able to understand what Lai was trying to say told the crowd. “I proposed to communicate through typing, but the professor turned down my request.”
Lai said he later learned from members of NTNU’s Special Education Center that his professor had complained to the center that he did not know how to teach a student like Lai.
Unable to find a solution, Lai dropped out of his course at NTNU. He retook the college entrance exam and was admitted to the Department of Law at Fujen Catholic University (FJU), where he completed his college degree.
“At FJU, English conversation is also a required course. However, the professor appointed a special assistant for me and allowed me to practice English conversation with the assistant through typing,” Lai said. “If the FJU could do it, I don’t understand why NTNU — a college for training teachers — cannot do it?”
Chief of the ministry’s Division of Special Education Lin Kun-tsan (林坤燦) received the petition from the demonstrators.
Lin said the ministry has always been concerned about the needs of students with disabilities and is drafting plans to cater to their needs.
However, the crowd was not satisfied with his reply and chanted slogans calling on the Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) to come out to meet them.
Lin said the ministry would invite representatives for different types of disabilities to a meeting to learn about their needs within two weeks.